Six steps to a stress-free Christmas Day

Christmas Day. One of the most eagerly awaited holidays of the year. Full of magic and wonder … unless, of course, you happen to be in the kitchen. In which case, that magic and wonder is replaced with sweating and swearing, and vows to be more way prepared next year. Well, next year has arrived folks so it’s time (and believe me, there still is time!) to put those best laid plans into action. Here then is my crucial six-step plan, which will hopefully make Christmas Day just that teeny bit more bearable … please note; copious amounts of wine will still be required.

 

1. Let’s cut right to the chase. Any decent plan requires a list and here’s how mine tends to play out. It all begins on Christmas Eve – but don’t worry, we’re not spending the whole day in the kitchen, that would just be silly. I want you to be able to savour every moment – but also get yourself a little ahead of the game for tomorrow. I begin with breakfast … that’s Christmas Day brekkie I’m referring to and, in my opinion, baked goods are absolutely the way to go. Pumpkin Bread has become a bit of a tradition in our house, and it means we can open our gifts at leisure. A fresh pot of tea (or cafetiere of coffee) are the perfect accompaniment – maybe a few fresh figs or other fruit to pick on, and you’ve got yourself a delicious festive breakfast that will quash any hunger pangs but still leave plenty of room for that hefty midday (or, in our case, late afternoon) dinner.

 

Here’s my go-to Pumpkin Bread recipe. Got more people coming? Just double the quantities and divide between two loaf tins. Whammo.

 

2. Okay, now you’ve made your breakfast bread it’s time to turn your attention to your starter. Trust me, unless you’re happy to faff about in the midst of preparing arguably the biggest/ most important meal of the year then you’ll want this one done and dusted and ready to be re-heated as and when needed. This year, I’ve opted for a seriously simple Chestnut Soup. In the past, I’ve opted for stuffed mushrooms but when you’re cooking for five or six, have limited room in both your fridge and oven, this can be a logistic nightmare. And besides, everyone is going to adore this silky smooth Chestnut Soup – it’s just enough to whet the appetite without over-facing everyone.
 


 

3. Likewise, dessert needs to be a breeze, especially after consuming a plate of food the size of your head. We tend to leave quite a gap between our main on Christmas Day, meaning we enjoy it more. This year my Sister has requested my Mince-pie Galette (although my Mont-Blanc Cups would also be a good option), which can be partially or fully prepped in advance. For those wanting it completely fresh on the day you can simply make and refrigerate the pastry the day ahead, then roll it out when required. Otherwise, make the whole thing a day or two before (it keeps well, loosely wrapped in foil in the fridge) and then gently heat before serving. I wholeheartedly insist you serve it with both (soya) cream and ‘ice-cream’. That and the Downton Christmas special equals festive perfection.

 

4. Don’t forget nibbles and drinks … my go-to drink is a glass of chilled prosecco with a splash of pomegranate juice, and (optional) dash of gingerbread syrup. You could also make my Pomegranate & Thyme Mocktail – to make more than one, skip the cocktail shaker method and simply double, triple or quadruple the ingredients. Place everything in a large jug and stir with wooden spoon. Divide the base mixture between the glasses and top with sparkling water – or for an alcoholic version, champagne.

 

For nibbles, I’m going down the Bloody Mary Bruschetta Route, partially because the colours scream Christmas but also because my version contains vodka. What can I say … ’tis the season!

 

5. Set the table. Or, at the very least, delegate someone to do it for you. I always seem to be rushing prior to serving up, so I like to make sure the table is ready to go well in advance. Whilst everyone is busying themselves getting ready, take a moment to chose a simple theme that will really show off your food. I’m all about self-service, so like to lay everything out, which means that pretty bowls and crockery are essential. Dot the table with a few votives and foliage but don’t over-do it … people like to have room to ‘breathe’ too. I like things somewhat informal so minimal is the order of the day. I think of these few precious moments as the calm before the storm so enjoy it. Now’s the time to potter, play and savour that Christmas spirit.

 

6. Onto the main event. I tend to go through all the side dishes I want to make and highlight those that can be made ahead without impairing the taste. I’ve also narrowed it down over the years … reducing my sides from upwards of twelve (seriously) to around eight or nine, depending on how I’m feeling. Here’s this years choices:
 

(1.) Braised Cabbage & Apple

(2.) Maple Roasted Parsnips

(3.) Pan-fried Brussel Sprouts

(4.) Sweet Potato Casserole (recipe in ‘Keep it Vegan’)

(5.) Roast Potatoes

(6.) Gravy (here’s a YouTube link to my ‘Easy Vegan Gravy’ recipe)

(7.) Cranberry Sauce

(8.) Carrot & Sage Slice

(9.) Tofurkey

 

That’s quite a hefty list as it is but imagine trying to make all that on the day … er, nightmare! These are quite traditional offering so if you’re after something a little more unusual may I suggest the following:
 

Winter Squash &  CousCous Salad
Warm Pumpkin & Red Onion Salad
Festive Slaw
Baked Aubergine with Lemon-infused CousCous

 

From my preferred side-dish list above, here are the ones that I can easily prep ahead:

Braised Red Cabbage, Cranberry Sauce, Carrot & Sage Slice, Sweet Potato Casserole (don’t add the pecans until the following day) and Gravy.

 

Thus leaving these remaining dishes for the day:

Maple Roasted Parsnips, Roast Potatoes, Pan-fried Sprouts and the Tofurkey.
 

 

Seeing it laid out like that already makes it seems much more manageable. I get someone else to peel the potatoes meaning I can then happily prep the parsnips and slice the sprouts. I’ll cook the tofurkey as instructed and then cover it in foil until needed, thus freeing up space in the oven. Most of my dishes take a maximum of 30 minutes to reheat so I’ll par-boil the roasties before popping them in the oven first … in case you’re wondering I’ll coat them in a basic sunflower oil and roast them for abut 45mins or until they properly crisp up. A few minutes later, I’ll roast the ‘snips and then gently re-heat the Braised Cabbage on the stove. Ensuring everything on the stove is re-heated at a medium temperature tends to keep panic to a minimum too. Sprinkle over the pecan topping before baking the Sweet Potato Casserole until piping hot along with the Carrot & Sage Slice, which is essentially acting as my ‘stuffing’ element this year. The last dish you want to cook is your Sprout because you want to ensure they still some freshness and bite. Stir-fry them on a high heat in some coconut oil and serve immediately.

 

Like I mentioned above, I don’t personally serve everyone individually, I simply lay everything out on the table and let everyone help themselves. For me, this is all part of that communal eating atmosphere I love so much. Pass the gravy will ya!

 

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Chestnut Miso Soup with Chickpea Croutons

 

Do you ever feel like things are getting on top of you? So much so that it’s affecting your ability to savour the moment, even for a second? Your over-active brain is rendering your physical body completely inert, and you quite literally can’t see the wood for the trees? Welcome to my my current state of play where everything seems disproportionally out of control – no rhyme, no reason, just is. Okay, so I can partially attribute my mental state to being semi-trapped in a village that I truly adore but which also leaves me feeling totally out on a limb with no connection to the ‘real-world’ … whatever that may be.

 

It’s a catch 22. We have a super house (mid-century mews with south-facing courtyard and balcony and great open-plan living space) and are privileged enough to call one of the prettiest villages in Cornwall our home – and yet, this somehow is not enough. I don’t (yet) drive and the bus into town is stupidly expensive so unless I walk (which I do when the weather is good) I’m here all alone for the most of the week. Yes, people (friends/family/work colleagues) come to me and I’ve made a concerted effort to get out and about more frequently but that doesn’t mean I don’t crave access to all those town-based amenities … call me crazy (or just a Londoner trying to find out how and where she fits in) but I need to be around people – perhaps it’s a safety in numbers thing but crowds weirdly make me feel safe.

 

Anyway, suffice to say it’s come to a bit of a ‘elephant-in-the-room’ head and we are now making serious moves to find a new abode. And, as sorry as I’ll be to leave our early 70’s haven, I can’t say I’m not eager to embrace town-life once again – we’re talking Penzance here, not, I hasten to add, the big smoke. In hindsight, it was probably a bit of leap coming directly from London and expecting to settle into a sleepy village right off the bat. Truthfully, I don’t think I even knew how much of a city girl I was until I made the move down here to the depths of Cornwall … plus, I’m inherently a people person and am/was used to dealing with various demanding situations on a daily basis. These days I rarely get to flex my ‘problem-solving’ muscles – and we all know that if ya don’t use it, ya lose it, am I right?

 

Don’t feel too sorry for me though because I have lots of exciting things planned for the New Year(hurrah!) – both personally and professionally, and one maybe, might, as in definitely will involve a wittle doggler that is in desperate need of a loving home. In the meantime, I have you blessed people to keep me company (holiday hugs all round!) and a big bowl of festive Chestnut Soup to warm me cockles- don’t forget the ‘chickpea croutons’ either. Okay, I concede…  it ain’t all bad.

 

p.s. click here for my latest vlog where I make this deliciously festive soup – please do ‘like’, ‘subscribe’ & ‘share’.

 

what you’ll need

serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 red onion

1 carrot

1 garlic clove

220g cooked chestnuts

1 heaped tsp miso

salt and pepper

 

for the chickpeas

juice 1/2 satsuma/tangerine

2 tbsp olive oil

glug (1/2 tbsp maple syrup)

2 sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped

good pinch of pink himalayan salt or sea salt

 

to serve

soya cream

chopped curly parsley

 

what you’ll do

 

pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees celsius.

 

heat the olive oil in a saucepan. finely chop the red onion and carrot and add to pan. sweat for several minutes until it begins to soften.

 

crumble in the chestnuts and stir through the miso. cover the mixture with water (approx 350ml) and bring to a gentle simmer for around 20 minutes.

 

drain and rinse the chickpeas and add to oven-proof pan. vigorously whisk the satsuma juice, oil and maple syrup together. pour over the chickpeas, sprinkle over the chopped rosemary and generously season with salt. toss to combine and roast for 25-30 minutes or until golden.

 

transfer the soup to a blender and blitz until smooth. return to pan and heat through – you can thin it out further with a little more water if you so desire at this stage.

 

ladle into warmed bowls or mugs, drizzle over some soya cream, spoon in the crunchy chickpea croutons and finish with a smattering of parsley.

 

Christmas Day starter sorted!

 

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Festive Mincemeat Galette

 

How in the heck is it the 1st of December already? Whilst part of me is jumping for ‘Christmas-is-coming’ joy, the other half is screaming ‘stop, the year can’t be over just yet’! Yes, I love Christmas but really it’s the build-up I adore more than anything … I mostly find the day itself a bit of a let-down. There’s always so many people to see and it’s usually a little tension-filled (lest it be anything less than perfect) which is probably why I eek out every last drop of Christmas Eve. Granted, the pressure I feel is mostly self-inflicted although I’ve been working on my Christmas Day zen mode the last couple of years. Can’t say I’ve been entirely successful just yet but at least I’m trying, right?

 

As always, I seek solace in the kitchen. I’ve already made some rather wonky looking star cookies (that’ll teach me to shove my baking equipment in a box) and as I type my Husband is making me a snowflake cutter on his fancy 3d machine thingy – exciting! Today though, I really fancied a dessert. More specifically, I was in the mood for mincemeat. Oh, lordy, do I love mincemeat. Not only have I necked about a dozen pies since they appeared on the supermarket shelves (in .. er, early November) but now I’m toying with a handful of recipes that utilize this most British of festive fillings. Sure, I could make it from scratch but why bother when most shop bought versions are vegan anyway – in case you’re wondering, I bought this one in the Co-op and it was spot on. Mincemeat Galette a go-go.

 

what you’ll need

 

for the pastry

80g spelt flour

40g plain white flour

50g icing sugar

pinch of salt

50g chilled coconut butter or marg

1 tbsp water

 

for the filling

400g mincemeat

 

to garnish

toasted flaked almonds

icing sugar

 

what you’ll do

 

sieve the flours, icing sugar and salt into a bowl. work the coconut butter into the flour mix until it resembles breadcrumbs. add the water and work it into a dough ball using your hands. wrap in cling film and chill for around 30mins – 1 hr.

 

pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.

 

flour a clean surface and carefully roll out the pastry into an oval shape. transfer to a lined baking sheet.

 

spoon the mincemeat into the centre of the pastry, leaving a generous amount of pastry around the edge. roughly crease the edges around the filling and bake for 30 minutes.

 

serve hot or cold with soya cream.

 

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